Lemon and Vanilla Bean Eclairs – A special dessert for Brian.

Every year Brian and I celebrate the anniversary of our first date. Over the years it has become a somewhat of a tradition that I try to make him a special treat, meal, or dessert; this year I contemplated over what that thing should be. When you are with someone as long as we have been (twenty two years) this never gets easier. I always want it to be new…or different than the item I made in the years past.

Brian enjoying a dinner out recently.

Brian enjoying a dinner out recently. Twenty two years and counting!

This year I was off my game. I will admit that from the start. I knew I wanted to make him a dessert. I systematically debated in my head what and how it should be. I tossed around ideas on flavor combos.  Thought of how I could play around with the texture of a few more traditional desserts. I even contemplated what and how these items will be eaten and served. My mind may never be at rest when it comes to food, but that is just me. Finally, to end the rambling consideration in my head I turned to Brian and I asked: “What do you really look for when it comes to a dessert? What favor do you hear and say, Yes That is what I want to eat!!!” He responded with he usual: dark chocolate, creaminess, and I like things tart too! There it was, he said it and it struck a cord: creamy and tart.

I instantly envisioned an eclair cut length wise, with a layer of lemony tartness and topped with another layer of thick vanilla bean pastry cream. I would brush the tops of them with a light lemon sugar glaze. But these eclairs would be made miniature. Any dessert you can make is more fun and exciting to eat when it is made in miniature. It makes for more interaction and conversation to take place too.

Miniture Lemon and Vanilla Bean Eclairs, ready to be enjoyed.

Miniture Lemon and Vanilla Bean Eclairs, ready to be enjoyed.

So the other day when I came home from work I whipped up some mini eclairs, about 4 dozen to be exact. While the pate choux (eclair batter) baked I stood over the stove and stirred my lemon curd and pastry cream, I patiently waited for them to thicken, before I strained and chilled them both. I had them both in the refrigerator chilling when Brian came home and saw the eclair shells on the dinning table. He asked what they were, and I could tell he was trying to resist popping one in his mouth. When I explained it was a surprise for after dinner he grinned. We sat and ate our dinner and cleaned up the kitchen.  When we were done we sat down with cups of tea and I started to fill the little eclairs and glaze them. He observed and asked why the special treat? As always I told him as many years we have been together – you and we deserve a special treat. And we feasted! Popping the little eclairs in our mouths in between sips of tea. We chatted about our day, our jobs, our dogs, and the planning of a future vacation. These little eclairs were zesty with tartness, and the vanilla bean pastry cream mellowed it out just a tad. Having made these in miniature it was a perfect balance of flavor and texture because you got a little bit of everything about this dessert in each bite.

As for twenty two years with Brian? It has been an adventure so far. We have lived together and separately in four different states – in two big cities – lived in separate states for months at a time – numerous apartments – owned a home – owned and ran two businesses – traveled abroad – taken road trips – and yes we are still together! We have taken many roads to get where we are, but that suits us just fine. Twenty two years is a long time, time well spent. We have just done it thus far with especially tasty food and desserts to accompany it all. Personally I think the layers of flavors in this dessert are much like the life we have experiences thus far. They are different but blend well for a delicious outcome.

Latte (our Lab) was admiring the eclairs, and wanted to they one with us.

Latte (our Lab) was admiring the eclairs, and wanted to they one with us.

Zesty Lemon and Vanilla Bean Eclairs (yields 3 – 4 dozen)

***NOTE – the recipe for the Pate Choux make 3 – 4 dozen. The lemon curd and the pastry cream make way more then is needed in this recipe. You can cut those recipes in half if you like, but I like to do the full amount and store the remainder in my refrigerator and find other uses for them in the next couple of days. I always store the extra in air tight sealed containers.

Pate Choux (Eclair Dough)

1/2 cup unsalted butter

1 cup of water

1 tsp sugar

1/2 tsp salt

1 1/4 cup flour

4 eggs, plus one egg white

First, bring butter, sugar, salt, and 1 cup water to a boil in a medium saucepan. Remove from the heat. Using a spoon or spatula, quickly stir in flour. Cook over medium-high heat, stirring constantly, until mixture pulls away from sides and a film forms on bottom of pan, about 3 minutes. It will make a sizzling noise, that is expected. But you are looking for the mixture to be all hydrated and in the form of ball or blob of dough.

Next, transfer the dough to the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Mix on low speed until slightly cooled, about 2 minutes or until you no longer see steam rising from the bowl and the bowl itself is cool to the touch. Raise speed to medium; add your whole eggs, 1 at a time, until a soft peak forms when batter is touched with your finger. If peak does not form, lightly beat remaining egg white, and mix it into batter a little at a time until it does.

Finally, have a pastry bag fitted with a tip no bigger than 1/2 in in diameter.  Have three baking sheets lined with parchment paper and preheat your oven to 375 degrees. Fill the bag with the batter and pipe batter in strait lines no bigger than 2 – 2 1/2 inches long. Space them at least 2 inches apart. Place them in the oven and bake roughly 20 – 25 minutes depending on your oven. Your pate choux should have expanded and at least doubled or more in hight. Once it is golden brown and feels crisp it is ready to be pulled form the oven and cooled.

Vanilla Bean Pastry Cream (Makes about 1 quart)

2 1/4 cup whole milk

6 egg yolks

2/3 cup sugar

1/3 cup corn starch

1 vanilla bean, split and scraped

First, In medium bowl, whisk together 1/2 cup milk, egg yolks, 1/3 cup sugar, and cornstarch.

Next, in a 4 quart pot place the remaining 1 3/4 cups milk along with the scraped seeds from vanilla bean; as well as the pod. Sprinkle remaining 1/3 cup sugar over, letting sugar sink undisturbed to bottom. Place the pan over moderate heat and bring to simmer without stirring.

Then, once the milk and vanilla bean mixture is at a simmer remove from the burner. Temper some of the hot milk mixture gradually into your yolk mixture – whisking it. Combine it all to your hot milk in the pot, and place over moderate heat. Cook it; whisking or stirring it (always to be sure you are touching the bottom of the pot with your whisk or spoon) constantly, until pastry cream simmers and thickens, about 1 minute.

Finally, remove you pot from heat, and strain into a bowl though a fine mesh strainer to remove any lumps. Discard vanilla pod, and whisk cream until smooth. Press plastic wrap directly onto surface of you pastry cream and refrigerate until chilled completely cold, about 4 hours. (Pastry cream can be made ahead and refrigerated, wrapped well with plastic wrap on surface, up to 5 days.)

Lemon Curd (about 1 quart)

1 1/4 fresh lemon juice

12 egg yolks

1 cup sugar

pinch of salt

8 oz unsalted butter, cold and cut up into 1 inch pieces

zest of 3 lemons

2 tbsp heavy cream

First, in a saute pan place your egg yolks and sugar and wis together. Add in the lemon juice and salt and whisk again. Place the butter in the pan and place the pan over medium low heat.

Next, while constantly stirring your mixture with a silicone spatula you will notice your butter begin to melt and mix into your lemon curd. It should begin to thicken not long after the butter melts.

Then, once your mixture is thick and coats the back of your spatula it is done cooking. It should be quite thick and no longer liquid like. Remove the pan from the heat pour the mixture and though a fine mesh strainer and into a bowl. Stir in the lemon zest and the heavy cream.

Finally, place plastic wrap directly over the curd and refrigerate until completely chilled (about 2 hours). Can be stored in the refrigerator for up to a week.

Lemon Glaze

1 1/2 cup powder sugar

1/4 – 1/2 cup fresh lemon juice

zest of 1 lemon

In a bowl place your powdered sugar, and with a fork stir in a little bit of lemon juice at a time. It will start out really thick and as you add more lemon juice it will losses up.

You are looking for the glaze to be thick enough that you can spread it on the eclair without dripping off. If you feel it is too thick and you used all the lemon juice you can sub in a teaspoon of water at a time until you reach your desired consistency.

Once the desired consistency is reached you can stir in the lemon zest. It is best to use this mixture immediately as it thickens as it sits.

Eclair Assembly

1. With a sharp knife, slice your eclair shells (Pate Choux) in half length wise, be sure you still have a flat bottom on one half.

2. Fill some of your lemon curd and your pastry cream in separate pastry bags and set aside.

3. Line your bottom half of your eclair shells on a tray. With your lemon curd, pipe a bit of curd to fill the bottom half.

4. Repeat this with your pastry cream, piping it over the top of the lemon curd. You are looking for both the curd and the pastry cream to be in two even layers.

5. Spread the tops of each eclair shell with the lemon glaze and rest the tops over the filled bottom halves. Chill until ready to eat, and best is made no longer than 6 – 4 hours before serving…they will get soggy the longer they sit prepared. Best to keep chilled until ready to eat!

Chocolate Buckwheat Cocoa Nib Cookies

Quite some time ago I came across a recipe for buckwheat pancakes. I, of course; went out and bought the buckwheat flour to try it out. The pancakes were extremely good and have been my preferred recipe when I have a pancake and maple syrup craving!

My dad with my mom on there last visit to Seattle.

My dad with my mom on there last visit to Seattle.

I must admit that there was an underlining reason I was so happy that these pancakes were so good. This is because my father loves buckwheat pancakes. I envisioned that the next time they visited I will have them over for a buckwheat pancake brunch! Unfortunately, we have not had any brunch opportunities as of yet. But I am still waiting, and in the mean time I have this bag of buckwheat flour sitting there. Each and every time I open up the cabinet door it looks me in the eye and begs – “Please! Please! Make something with me!?!” I could hear it whisper – “I am good for so much more than just pancakes!”

Of course I started to look into many different types of recipes I could sub buckwheat flour into. Being the cookie monster I know I am it was only logical I start there. it was my thought that buckwheat’s earthy sweetness pairs perfectly with a deep chocolate flavor. A few recipes were tried before i realized how much I like this one: Chocolate Buckwheat Cocoa Nib Cookies. I made them and was smitten. Then I ate a few more the following day with a cup of tea; could it be they were even better? I did some research and discovered many others who tried cookie recipes said the same thing, the flavor of the buckwheat developed and mellowed out a bit the following day. The cookie became more crisp, deeper in chocolate flavor, and the earthiness of the buckwheat made the cookie overall less sweet and more satisfying.

Cookies cooling from the oven.

Cookies ready to go into the oven.

Fast forward to a couple of weeks ago. My father’s birthday was approaching and I asked him if there was anything he wanted. He responded with: cookies! When I asked what kind he said, “Any cookies you make, like the ones you use to make.” I was a bit baffled being I do and have made many, many cookies over time; but I knew any cookies I would make would be good in his opinion. (If there is anything my father and I share it would be our Cookie Monster tendencies.

So I whipped up a couple different kinds, along with the the Chocolate Buckwheat Cocoa Nib Cookies. I may not be able to have a pancake brunch yet with them being we are thousands of miles apart. But cookies… cookies always ship quite well, that is what my dad and I think at least. Great minds think alike…cookies and all. (Happy Birthday Dad! I hope you are enjoying your cookies.)

Chocolate Buckwheat Cocoa Nib Cookies...crispy and yummy!

Chocolate Buckwheat Cocoa Nib Cookies…crispy and yummy!

Chocolate Buckwheat Cocoa Nib Cookies (makes about 40 – 45 cookies)

1 1/4 cup of flour

3/4 cup buckwheat flour

1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder

10 oz butter (at room temp)

1/2 tsp of sea salt

2/3 cup sugar (plus more for sprinkling)

2 tsp vanilla extract

1/3 cup roasted cocoa nibs

Sea salt for Sprinkling (flaked sea salt is great for this, it is also a great time to try out flavored salts. I used an espresso salt, but plain old sea salt is just as good.)

First, whisk together both the flours, sea salt, and the cocoa powder. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Next, in the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment place your butter and your sugar. Mix it together until it is light and fluffy. Add in the vanilla extract and mix it well. Once it is all combined well, slowly add the flour mixture. Mix it until it is combined and formed into one even dough.

Then, mix in the cocoa nibs and generously flour a smooth surface to roll out your dough. Roll the dough out with a rolling pin (generously flouring the dough too) until it is about 1/4 inch thick. *See note at bottom. Cut into desired shapes and place on a parchment lined baking sheet. Chill until firm.

Finally, once the dough is firm sprinkle the top of each cookie generously with the extra sugar. Pinch a bit of the extra sea salt in the center of each cookie dough. Place the baking shtiks in the oven for 10 – 14 minutes until they are set, but with a little give. Let them cool on a rack and wrap tightly in plastic until ready to eat. They are best if eaten within a week.

**NOTE: I find when rolling out any dough it is always best to roll the rolling pin in one direction only. rotate the dough 45 degrees and roll again. I keep repeating this process until I get the thickness needed in the dough, and flour it as needed. You will find that by doing this the dough sticks less to your work surface, and you end up with a more evenly rolled out dough.

Summer Chopped Salad

I think that if there was one thing I could make and eat until the end of time, it would be salad. Yes, if given the chance I will have a salad at each and every meal. I love them so much I think it is quite possible I was a rabbit in a past life!

All the ingredients chopped and ready.

All the ingredients chopped and ready.

Why do I love them so? I am not quite sure. Although let me clarify – I am not talking about a romaine lettuce salad at every meal. I tend to cook with the season, no matter what the season is, you can always match up what is fresh and ripe brilliantly in a salad! But the fun is in how you prepare and serve it together.

Salad plated and awaiting it's dressing.

Salad plated and awaiting it’s dressing.

The other day, with the heat of summer a salad was second nature. But I thought to myself…Chop! Chop it all! A chopped salad! Yes!!! A chopped salad is fun, festive, pretty to look at, and satisfyingly refreshing from your average tossed salad. So I gathered what I had picked up from the farmers market. I chopped them all and had each item organized for plating. To keep things cool and refreshing I whipped up a dill yogurt dressing to tie it together. On platting I lined up all the ingredients in neat rows, not plating two like colors next to each other; you’ll impress whomever you are sharing it with. Even if it is just for you, impress yourself! Treat yourself because you deserve a great and tasty salad like this one. Not to mention it is too perfect on those muggy summer nights!

Yougurt Dill Dressing over the Summer Chopped Salad and ready to be enjoyed!

Yougurt Dill Dressing over the Summer Chopped Salad and ready to be enjoyed!

Summer Chopped Salad (serves 4)  

1/2 bunch arugula, dried and washed well

1 can (15 oz) garbanzo beans, rinsed and drained

1 carrot, peeled and chopped small

1/2 – 1/4 cucumber, sliced

1/2 cup of quinoa, cooked

1/2 red bell pepper, diced

2/3 cup feta, crumbled

3 green onions, trimmed and chopped small

1/2 cup greek yogurt

1/4 cup olive oil

3 tbsp sherry vinegar

1/4 cup fresh dill, minced

sea salt and fresh black pepper to taste

First, as you get all your ingredients together place them on separate plates and bowls as needed. set them up on your work space in order for your plating to go smoothly.

Next, in a bowl place your olive oil, yogurt,dill, and vinegar and whisk it all together. Season it with sea salt and fresh black pepper to taste and refrigerate until needed.

Finally, line up your plates and center your arugula in a row in the center of each. Follow with the garbanzos, and other veggies as you like. End each plate with the feta on one end and the green onions on the opposite.  Serve with your yogurt dressing to be spooned over. Mix as you enjoy it all!

 

Corn Lime Soup with Cumin Scented Tortilla Strips

There is something about soup that I cannot resist. Even in the summer, I wait for days that are a bit on the cooler side for a warm soup. Or, I make a chilled one! Either way, I hugely enjoy them no matter the temperature.

Corn Lime Soup

Corn Lime Soup

On a cooler summer evenings in Seattle a soup that is on the lighter side while being packed with flavor; that is what you want. Corn soup with cumin, lime, roasted bell peppers, and tortillas? Something like that is perfection. I first tried this recipe because it was one of Chef Sarah Moulton’s. Over time I have made it my own with little tweaks here and there. One thing I did learn from her though was that you can extract huge flavor if you place the corn cobs right into the soup as it simmers. Yes, very true and like a revolution to me in soup making way back when.

Carefully cutting the kernels from the cobs.

Carefully cutting the kernels from the cobs.

So the other day I saw fresh corn at the market, and the temperature only in the 70’s I knew I had to make this soup. I trimmed all the kernels from the ears, chopped veggies, roasted peppers, and made a salt / lime / cumin mix for the tortillas. While the soup simmered with the cobs in it, I fried up the tortillas. As I pureed and strained a bit of the soup, I also peeled the roasted bell peppers. As the soup was finishing, I stirred in the remainder of the corn kernels I reserved along with some fresh lime juice, roasted bell peppers, and minced jalapeno. It was all coming together, all the flavors were layered and waiting to be tasted. I ladled the soup into the bowls, we topped them with the seasoned tortillas and more fresh lime. It was light, warm, rich with corn, and an underlining spiciness. Perfection! Soup in the summer is fitting, especially if it is a corn one like this.

The Corn Lime Soup topped with the Cumin Lime Tortilla Strips.

The Corn Lime Soup topped with the Cumin Lime Tortilla Strips.

Corn Lime Soup with Cumin Scented Tortilla Strips (Serves 6)

*Note: I like this soup as is; but there are times I have garnished it with fresh cilantro and diced avocado as well.

10 ears of corn

3 cups chicken or veggie stock

2 tsp ground cumin, divided

2 onions (medium in size), chopped small

4 celery stalks, chopped small

1 tbsp butter

sea salt and fresh black pepper to taste

1 red or orange bell pepper

2 limes – 1 juiced and zested, the other sliced

Chive, chopped for garnish

6-8 corn tortilla cut into strips

vegetable oil for frying

First, take all the corn cobs and carefully cut the corn kernels from the cob. Reserve the cobs and about 1 – 1 1/2 cups of corn kernels. Place a large soup pot over medium heat. Melt your butter in the pot and add your onion, celery, and 1 tsp of the cumin. Stir it all together and let it simmer and sizzle until the onion becomes translucent. About 5 minutes.

Next, add all but the reserved corn and the broth. Along with this add as many of the cobs that will fit into the pot with out ti over flowing. Let it all come to a simmer for about 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, roast your bell pepper in the boiler or on your burner (whatever you are comfortable with). Roast it until the skin is all blistery and charred and set aside to cool. Also, in a bowl stir together about 1 tsp of salt along with your lime zest and the other 1 tsp of ground cumin; and set it aside.By now, your soup should have simmered for the 15 minutes. Remove the corn cobs and discard them. With an immersion blender puree the soup. Strain about a 1/3 of it. Pressing on the solids to release all the liquid. Place the liquid back into the pot and discard the solids. Add your reserved corn to the soup, along with the jalapeño; and keep the soup over a very low flame to be sure it stays warm. Peel your bell pepper and roughly chop it into small pieces. State your soup and season as needed with you salt and pepper too at this point.

Then, in a pot pour in your vegetable oil. Heat it over medium heat and slowly add your tortilla strips. Fry them until golden and drain them on a paper towel lined plate. While still hot sprinkle with your salt / cumin / lime mixture and set aside.

Finally, stir in the chopped roasted bell pepper to the soup along with the lime juice you have reserved. Ladle the soup into the bowls and top it with the tortilla strips, chopped chives, and a lime slice along the side. Enjoy while warm.

Buttermilk Pie with Berries

I have to admit something. Up until I was in my early twenties, I believed that I disliked pie! Yes; in all truthfulness, I never came across a piece that I truly desired. Pies were also never something that commonly graced our dessert tables. If memory serves me right, there were two times my mother attempted to make a pie from scratch while I was growing up. She made a lemon meringue pie, and an apple pie. My mother is a fantastic cook, anyone who knows her will tell you that; but a baker she is not. I hope she is not offended by my writing this, but I have memories of her making the pies and none of me eating or tasting them.

The Martha Stewart "Pies & Tarts" book I adore. It is out of print but you can still find old ones online.

The Martha Stewart “Pies & Tarts” book I adore. It is out of print but you can still find old ones online.

To be honest though, the majority of pies I had encountered up until that point were purchased from a store, or baked fresh from a freezer section of your local supermarket. They always appeared to have gloopy fillings and the crust was always a bit on the soggy side. It wasn’t until a neighbor I had when I was first living on my own made a sweet potato pie that she insisted I come over and try. To be polite I accepted, and with in the first couple of bites I was weak in the knees. It was so well balanced because it was not too sweet, and the crust was tender. She thought me how to make the pie, and from then on I was on a pie mission. It wasn’t much longer after my pie euphoria that I came across a book from Martha Stewart appropriately entitled “Pies & Tarts” and purchased it. I have used it over and over again through the years. It thought me a ton and opened my eyes to the pie world. In many ways has become like a pie bible for me.

Pouring the Buttermilk Filling into the pie crust.

Pouring the Buttermilk Filling into the pie crust.

The other day we were going to a BBQ and I thought to myself: ‘What better to bring then a pie?” I walked over to my book shelves and pulled out my trusty Martha Stewart book. I flipped though the pages when I came across one of the recipes I alway wished I had tried but never got around to it- Buttermilk Pie. You make your pie dough as usual, whisk together a buttermilk custard, pour it into the shell and bake it. Sounds simple and straight forward. I imagined the buttermilk custard to have a sweet and lemony tang, and since berries are in great abundance right now I felt it was perfect to top the pie with some supper ripe ones.

The Buttermilk Pies cooling out of the oven. (Okay I admit it, I made two pies. One for the BBQ and one for us!)

The Buttermilk Pies cooling out of the oven. (Okay I admit it, I made two pies. One for the BBQ and one for us!)

So the evening before the BBQ I rolled out the pie dough, and chilled it until it was set. I made a nice border out of the crust with a circle cutter because I cannot sit still in the kitchen and I thought that with the berry filling it would somewhat look like an blossom when it was all done. I whisked the buttermilk filling together, poured it into the crust, and baked it off. It smelled mellowly sweet and buttery. I let it chill overnight and in the morning I went to the market to pick up the berries. I am sure that any berries would be great with this; but I asked the vendor what is at it’s peek and they pointed me in the direction blackberries, blueberries, and golden raspberries. After washing and drying the berries I piled them onto the center of the buttermilk pie. The pie looked beautiful and it got a tone of compliments. I will admit that it tasted wonderfully. The ripely sweet berries played nicely with the lemon tang of the buttermilk custard. It was lightly rich in flavor and in a whole they were a match made in heaven. I cannot believe I have not tried this pie until now. I really enjoy a good pie!

Buttermilk Pie with Fresh Seasonal Berries

Buttermilk Pie with Fresh Seasonal Berries

Buttermilk Pie with Berries (makes one 8-9 inch pie)

1 recipe of Pate Brisee

1 1/4 cups sugar

3 tbsp flour

4 eggs, beaten

1/2 cup melted butter, and slightly cooled

1 cup buttermilk

zest of 1 lemon

1 tbsp lemon juice

1 tsp vanilla extract

1/4 tsp freshly grated nutmeg

4-6 pints of berries, depending on their size

First, roll out your pate brisee to about 1/2 – 1/4 inch thick in a circumference large enough to fit your pie pan. Gently lift your dough and lay it into your pan. With a sharp knife trim the edges overhanging. You can gently crimp the urging with your fingers. Or you can use a 1-2 inch circle cutter to cut out the remainder of the dough, pressing each one into the crust, while gently letting them overlap. Place the prepped pie crust into the refrigerator or freezer until it is firm and set (at least 1 hour).

Next, preheat your oven to 425 degrees. In a large bowl combine the sugar and flour. add in the eggs and whisk it all together. To this add in the melted butter, buttermilk, lemon juice, zest, vanilla, and nutmeg. Whisk it all together to combine it evenly.

Then, place your prepped pie plate on a baking sheet. Pour the prepared filling into the crust, and place it in the center of the oven. Bake it for about 30 – 45 minutes. You are looking for the filling to be slightly golden and set when giggled. Remove from the oven and cool. can be refrigerated for a day until serving.

Meanwhile, wash your berries gently. Lay them out on a kitchen towel to it dry until ready.

Finally, when ready pile the berries into the center of the baked pie. Let them fall naturally about to fill your pie. Leave room temperature for at least an hour before serving. Can be held out for a few hours, but refrigerate if there are leftovers. But do not hold for longer than three days, or the berries will lose their luster.

 

Curry Chicken Salad

When it is hot out, and quite possibly just as hot indoors, do you really want to cook anything? I never minded cooking in the height of summer while I lived in New Jersey or even while I was living in Phoenix. In both of those places we had central air conditioning! Here in Seattle cooking in the summer is completely different, case in point – no air conditioning at all!

To be honest, the summer hear in the pacific northwest is beautiful. It generally is mild and there is almost always a breeze. That is until the last week or two, we have been in the 90’s along along with a slight increase in humidity. By the time I walk home from work in the afternoons with the sun beating down on me, and I climb the four flights of stairs to my apartment, I am ready for a cool shower followed by sitting in front of the fan for a bit. Cooking is the last thing from my mind. Salads, quick meals, and grabbing takeout have been the answer to this heat.

Prepping the ingredients for the salad. (Apricots when dried naturally are brown in their approach but just as sweet as the orange ones.)

Prepping the ingredients for the salad. (Apricots when dried naturally are brown in their approach but just as sweet as the orange ones.)

But Brian came home explaining that he had lunch club at work. The theme they came up with was Summer Salads and Sandwiches. Very fitting given the heat. He explained he was going to make the Curry Chicken Salad I would make for lunch when we owned our bakery. He said to me: “It is always so good. I really love the balance of spice to sweetness and creaminess with it’s crunch.” Unfortunately, Brian had nonstop meetings, worked the weekend, and had business dinners. This evolves into I am now making the Curry Chicken Salad. But I don’t mind really, there is not much to chopping the ingredients. While Brian was at one of his business dinners I chopped the celery, shallot, and dried apricots. I mixed them into the curry, mayo, and yogurt to let is all marinate together. I left the baking of the chicken and toasting of the almonds for Brian. I knew he would be home once the sun went down and once the temperature would drop in our kitchen.

When Brian got home he did just that. He baked off the chicken cutlets and let them cool. He toasted the almonds and chopped them and put them aside. When the chicken was done baking and cooled he chopped it up into small pieces and tossed it with the reserved mixture I made and let it all marinate together. He said he tasted it in the morning to adjust the salt and packed it up for lunch club. He said the salad went over well as many of his coworkers took a little bit and either ate it on it’s own with greens or made a sandwich with it. It makes me happy to see others enjoy this salad, not to mention my kitchen did not swelter in heat to make something. Make it for yourself and keep cool this summer. I hope you have breezy days and cool nights!

Curry Chicken Salad with almonds over the top. Served and ready to dig in.

Curry Chicken Salad with almonds over the top. Served and ready to dig in.

Curry Chicken Salad (makes enough for 6 people)

**Notes: curry powder can vary depending on brand, and region of origin. For this I use a traditional Indian curry. I personally love a south indian curry if available. But if you are weary of the curry then adding just 1 tsp at a time to build a flavor that you are comfortable with.

4 chicken cutlets

2 large ribs of celery, chopped small

1 large or 2 small shallot, chopped small

8 – 10 dried apricots, chopped fine

1/2 cup of almonds, tasted ad chopped

1 tbsp curry powder

1/4 cup of mayo

1/4 cup greek yogurt

sea salt, to taste

Olive oil, for baking

First, preheat your oven to 375 degrees. Coat the chicken with a bit of olive oil, sprinkle a bit of sea salt over it, place it on a prepared baking sheet, and place it in the oven. Check on the chicken after 12-15 minutes. You re looking for the chicken to be cooked though and slightly golden in hue. Remove from the oven and let cool.

Next, in a bowl place your shallot, celery, and dried apricots. Mix it together with your mayo and yogurt. Sprinkle the curry over it all and toss it together and set in the refrigerator to chill and marinate.

Meanwhile, chop your chicken into bite sized pieces. Once all chopped add to your curry mixture and toss well. If serving right away taste and adjust seasoning as needed. If not serving right away cover it all and store in the refrigerator for at least a day, but taste and adjust the seasoning before serving.

Finally, when ready to serve you can stir the almonds into the mixture, or you can serve them along side. Also, if you feel the salad mixture is not creamy enough feel free to add more mayo and yogurt in equal amounts. Serve it with lettuce or with slices of bread to make sandwiches with.

Grilled Zucchini

We recently traveled to Vancouver, B.C. and it was lovely. We ate and walked, dined and toured, snacked and water taxied, and yes – we ate some more. I will admit that we planned this trip with the soul purpose to relax and enjoy the city; the awesome food was a pure bonus.

Bed side picnic and binge watching Chef's Table.

Bed side picnic and binge watching Chef’s Table.

The funny thing is, the amount of walking we did does not even come close to the amount of food we ate. But that is the way we like to travel. We start out early, trek through unknown neighborhoods, and discover what they have to offer. We take in the sights, eat as we go, and once we make it back to where we are staying in the evening we are done. No nightlife, bars, shows, or music venus on this trip…just quiet evenings, reading, and some Netflix. It was really refreshing; even when we figured out that we walked about 8 – 10 miles in one day. Although, it was followed up with picnic on the bed and binge watching Chef’s Table.

Zucchini sliced and placed in marinade.

Zucchini sliced and placed in marinade.

Once we were back into normal life here in Seattle, making a big meal was the last thing on my mind. We both were busy with work and everyday life that the simplicity of a salad kind of suited us. This made me remembered that many years ago when I was first cooking for myself, salads were my go to item. But then I discovered the beauty of marinating and grilling veggies. It was so simple, no fuse, and were always so tasty. The other amazing thing about making these is truly, any sliced veggie can work in this recipe: onions, eggplant, peppers, fennel, and squash. Trust me, we have tried it all, but my favorite of them all is zucchini. So the other night for dinner we dinned on a salad and grilled zucchini on the side. It was just as delicious as always…and so simple. Truly perfect for these busy warm nights of summer, you will have to give it a try. We have made many devout lovers of this recipe, it really is a winner.

Zucchini grilled and ready to eat.

Zucchini grilled and ready to eat.

Grilled Marinated Zucchini (feeds 4)

***Keep in mind that you can do this with any veggie, just as long as the veggies are sliced long enough and thick enough so that they do not slip though the grates of the grill.

3 zucchini (medium in size), cut into 1/2 – 1 inch thick slices

1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil

1/4 cup balsamic vinegar

1 tbsp sea salt, plus more for finishing

1/2 tsp crushed red pepper flakes

1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper

3 cloves of garlic, thinly sliced

First, pre heat your grill on high for about an hour.

Meanwhile; stir together your olive oil, vinegar, sea salt, red pepper, black pepper, and garlic in a large bowl. To this add your zucchini and toss it to coat it well. Cover it and place in the refrigerator to marinate. (You should let it marinate for at least 30 minute, or up to 3 hours.)

Then, turn your grill down to medium. Once your zucchini is marinated remove them from the marinade and place them length wise across the grates. Let them sit there and sizzle until you see the grill marks set into the zucchini slices. Once the marks are set, you can flip the slices over repeat the process on that side as well.

Finally, when the zucchini is grilled you can place it on a plate to serve. Before serving I like to sprinkle a bit more of sea salt over them. They are great fresh from the grill, but are great at room temperature as well.

Fruity Pebble Cake Fascination

A couple of moths ago a coworker showed me a cake she was thinking of making for her son’s birthday. It was a colorfully speckled cake similar to that of a confetti cake but the intriguing thing about this cake was that the “confetti” was actually Fruity Pebbles! it was three layers of a vanilla fruity confetti cake with vanilla buttercream enrobing it all together. The sides of the cake were coated with more Fruity Pebbles adorning the cake like sprinkles. The cake was cute, looked like it oozed fun, even though you could tell it was sugary – but it was the kind of sugary goodness you know children dream about. I walked her through the recipe and she was excited to make it.

Fruity Pebble Cake cake getting adorned with sugary cereal goodness.

Fruity Pebble Cake cake getting adorned with sugary cereal goodness.

Unfortunately, her son came down with a bad cold before his birthday and she never ended up making the cake. Shortly afterward, while walking the grocery store, I noticed I was on the cereal isle. Out of curiosity I looked for Fruity Pebbles, but there were none! Let me admit that my curiosity was piqued because I was never allowed to have sugary cereals growing up. I started to wonder: What do Fruity Pebbled taste like? Then a few weeks later I was in Rite Aid to get allergy meds when I noticed they had a cereal isle. I walked down the isle and there it was! Boxes of Fruity Pebbles, they do exist!!! I purchased the box and hurried home. I couldn’t wait! I was going to make this cake and bring it in as a surprise for the staff.

A quick look at the "fruity confetti"  cake layers.

A quick look at the “fruity confetti” cake layers.

Now those of you who know me I am sure are wondering: Why was I so excited about this cake and buying this cereal? I mean it is extremely colorful in an artificial way, the so called “fruity” flavoring was fruity in a nondescript fruit way, and it is more sugar in one intake for a breakfast item then I care to think about. But, I felt there was something extremely reminiscent of reliving childhood when I saw this cake. This cake looked like fun. It reminded me of running around playing musical chairs, wearing fun paper hats, and getting goodie bags with all of your friends – you know the average stuff we use to do when we were 7 years old. I needed to be a kid again, at least just for this one time.

I will admit to snacking on a few Fruity Pebbles as I placed finishing touches on the cake.

I will admit to snacking on a few Fruity Pebbles as I placed finishing touches on the cake.

So I spent one evening baking the cake, and then in the next evening decorating it. It was fun I will admit. It was quite easy too. I boxed up the finished cake and headed into work with it in the morning. Three separate people stopped me on the walk to work at 5:30 AM to ask about the cake. Once I got to work I placed the cake on my co-workers station, by the time everyone else rolled in they were all asking about the cake. It’s funny really, it is like they all turned in to children again with cake and sugar their mind. Once they heard it was made with cereal they were even more fascinated. Once the co-work who started this Fruity Pebble Cake Fascination got in she started to laugh! We all took pictures and feasted on sugary cereal cakey goodness with our tea or coffee. It may not be something I will want to eat again; although, it was fun to experience the enthusiasm and giddiness over this cake with my coworkers. Sometimes you just need to feel like a kid again.

My first and last slice of Fruity Pebble Cake! It was fun to be a kid for a moment.

My first and last slice of Fruity Pebble Cake! It was fun to be a kid for a moment.

Fruity Pebble Confeti Cake (makes one 8 inch round, three layer cake)

***This recipe is from the blog Butter Lust. You can link directly to the blog from here! The following directions are from that recipe. Although, I do not own three 8 inch pans, so I baked it on 8 inch pan for about an hour at 325 degrees. Then sliced it into three layers for icing.

CAKE

1 1/2 cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature

2 1/4 cups sugar

6 large egg whites, at room temperature

2 tablespoons clear imitation vanilla

6 tablespoons vegetable oil

3 3/4 cups cake flour (see headnote)

3 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon salt

1 1/2 cups whole milk, at room temperature

3 cups Fruity Pebbles cereal

BUTTERCREAM

2 cups (4 sticks) butter, at room temperature

1 tablespoon clear imitation vanilla

3 tablespoons milk or cream

4 cups powdered sugar

First, preheat your oven to 350 degrees and grease and line 3 8-inch cake pans with parchment paper. In the bowl of a standing mixer, whip together butter and sugar until fluffy. Add the egg whites one at a time, mixing well between each addition. Add the oil and vanilla and mix until well combined.

Next; in a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt. With your mixer on low, add the dry ingredients in thirds, alternating with the milk (you should start and end with the dry ingredients). Mix until batter is just combined and smooth – don’t over mix.

Then, fold in the Fruity Pebbles cereal then divide the batter between the three greased cake pans. Bake for 25-30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean. Remove from the oven and cool in the pan for about 10 minutes, then turn out into a cooling rack to cool completely before frosting. (I like to chill the cake overnight and ice the following day.)

The next day, in the bowl of a stand mixer, whip butter on medium-high for about 1 minute. Add the powdered sugar, mix on low until incorporated, then turn the mixer up to high and beat for about 2 minutes. Add the milk and vanilla, mix on low again until incorporated, then turn mixer to high and beat for 4-5 minutes or until frosting is very fluffy.

Once the icing is made, If desired, level your cakes to remove domed tops and create a more even, professional-looking cake. Place one layer of cake on a cardboard round or flat serving surface and top with about 1/2 cup of buttercream. Top with another layer off cake then add another layer of frosting. Top off with the last layer of cake.

After, once all your layers are stacked, frost the cake with a very thin crumb coat layer of icing (this will help achieve a smooth finish) and refrigerate until icing is set (about 10 minutes).

Finally, use the remaining icing to frost the outside of the cake. To coat the sides with Fruity Pebbles, take a handful of cereal and gently press into the side of the cake. Repeat until completely covered. Note that this is a messy process, but the end result sure is pretty!

Fava Bean and Water Cress with Roasted Garlic Ricotta Spread

A couple of years ago I received the book Plenty, by Yotam Ottolenghi as a holiday present. I have had my eye on it for a while and I will admit that I was supper pleased to finally have one in my possession. I went through it cover to cover numerous times – I could not put it down. It is full of super great veggie recipes, one better than the next. With full honesty I cannot think of any one of the recipes that I like better.

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The books Plenty and Plenty More.

Then, Ottolenghi came out with another book: Plenty More. I received this one for my birthday this past year, and just like the last one I could not put it down. over and over again I have flipped through the pages. Let me admit that sometimes I do not know what is more enticing in these books, the recipes themselves or the photos of the food. Just like the last book it is just gorgeous!

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Okay, enough of me gushing! The other day while walking past one of the stands down at Pike’s Place Market the vendor told me that the fava beans were exceptional and just came in. So I purchased a few handfuls and headed home. I remembered a recipe in Plenty More that I really admired and I figured this was the perfect time to dive into it.

Sreading the fava beans and water cress over the ricotta.

Sreading the fava beans and water cress over the ricotta.

The recipe was a Fava Bean Spread with a Roasted Garlic Ricotta; I know, it sounds fabulous doesn’t it?!?  So I started in on the recipe. Brian assisted by hulling and shucking the fava beans for me while I took a walk with the dogs to a bakery to pick up a freshly baked baguette to enjoy it with. Although the recipe called for lots of fresh lemon zest and juice I substituted in some preserved lemon zest being I have so much of it on hand. Also, I added in a bit of fresh water cress when I was sautéing the favas. I thought the peppery nature of the water cress would compliment the favas along with the bright lemony flavor. After I had it all plated, bread was sliced and assorted raw veggies to go along the side were prepped we gave it all a try.

Fava Bean Water Cress Saute with Roasted Garlic Ricotta, fresh bread and raw veggies.

Fava Bean Water Cress Saute with Roasted Garlic Ricotta, fresh bread and raw veggies.

I didn’t say a word through each bite! I chewed, I munched, I let the flavors linger on my tongue, and I completely enjoyed ever tiny moment of it all. I savored it all, Brian chatted away telling me about work and then looked at me asking why I was so silent. Once he saw the expression on my face he asked “You are loving every bite of this aren’t you?” I couldn’t find a word to muster up, I was just too busy taking it all in. I believe I put my hand up to my mouth, smiled, and nodded. There were no words needed, I was tasting something so deliciously good I had to relish every bit of it! After a bit of time, and about 4 slices of baguette for myself; it was almost all gone. As we were packing up the leftover we both agreed, this definitely needs to be made again – and it must be shared! So thank you Yotam Ottolenghi, you are super talented beyond words and have inspired a fantastic creation.

All that deliciousness on top of crusty bread!

All that deliciousness on top of crusty bread!

Fava Bean and Water Cress with Roasted Garlic Ricotta Spread (feeds 4)

1 pound of fava beans (about 1 cup shelled)

4 garlic cloves

1/2 cup olive oil

1 cup ricotta cheese

1 cup water cress

1/4 preserved lemon peel, chopped very finely

1 lemon (half zested and juiced, the other half sliced)

handful fresh mint leaves (about 1/4 cup), chopped

Sea salt and fresh black pepper to taste

Extra olive oil for drizzling

Freshly sliced crusty bread for serving

First, preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Place a pot of salted water over high heat and bring to a boil. Meanwhile, have a large bowl of ice water set aside for blanching. Place the fava beans in the boiling water and cook for about 2 minutes. Drain and immediately place the beans in the ice bath you have waiting to shock them. Once they are cool enough to handle, pop the favas out of their outer skin – discarding the skin and reserving the inner bean.

Next, toss your garlic cloves with the skin on in 2 tbsp of olive oil. Place them on a baking dish and roast in the oven for 10 minutes. The cloves should be tender when pierced. Once the cloves are cool slip them out of their skin giving them a rough mashing with a fork and set them aside.

Then, place a large sauté pan over medium heat. Once your pan is heated through add the remainder olive oil and heat through. Add the preserved lemon peel, the peeled favas, and let it all simmer together about 2-3 minutes. Add the water cress and sauté all together until ithe water cress wilts.

Meanwhile, in a bowl mash together you roasted garlic and ricotta. Season it with a bit of sea salt and fresh black pepper. spread the mixture in the bottom of your serving dish / plate.

Finally, top the ricotta mixture with your fava and water cress sauté. Sprinkle it with the reserved lemon juice, fresh lemon zest, and fresh mint. Drizzle it with a bit of olive oil, sea salt and fresh black pepper. Serve with fresh bread and lemon slices.

Addicting Granola w/ Coconut and Pistachios

I woke with the strange craving for granola the other day. I cannot tell you why, I just wanted some. And just like a craving usually goes, I had none! I had all the ingredients, but none prepped and I was not about to make some. Yes it is easy to make, but at 4 A.M. I do not think Brian would have appreciated me whipping up a batch while he was fast asleep.  Besides, I was ready to walk out the door to get to work. Today, a plain bowl of oatmeal would have to do.

Tossing all the granola ingredients together.

Tossing all the granola ingredients together.

Now I have listed a previous recipe for granola on here. That recipe had hazelnuts, and I loved eating it with raspberries and yogurt. But this batch I made with coconut! Nice big flakes of coconut along with pistachios. I used brown rice syrup as my sweetener because it is more mild than honey or maple syrup…You see I wanted the natural sweetness of the coconut, and other nuts and seeds I used to stand out a bit more. That is the beauty of granola. You can easily tweak it to match you craving – nuts, seeds, grains, fruits, sweeteners; the possibilities are endless.

Granola, baked and cooling.

Granola, baked and cooling.

So the other afternoon while I was home, I gathered my ingredients, tossed them all together, and baked it all off – stirring it frequently so that it baked evenly and gathered nice little clumps of nuttiness. Once it was cooled I stored it in a large jar on our kitchen counter. If it was in plain sight I knew we would make use of it. Each morning this week I was more than pleased scooping my granola and pairing it with some sliced strawberries along with almond milk. I will admit that there were a couple of times Brian and I helped our selves to a handful just as a snack. This recipe is delicious, addicting, and now all gone! I think when I am done writing this I am off to make another batch. I know I will be looking for it when 4 A.M. rolls around again!

Coconut and Pistachio Granola with fresh Strawberries and Almond Milk.

Coconut and Pistachio Granola with fresh Strawberries and Almond Milk.

Addicting Granola w/ Coconut and Pistachios (Makes about 6 cups)

**Notes: almost any of these ingredients can be found at Whole Foods, or trader Joe’s. The coconut chips, pistachios, and other nuts and seeds are best raw when starting so that they roast and bake all together.

3 cups rolled oats

1 1/2 cups coconut chips

1 cup pistachios

1/4 cup of sesame seeds

1/4 cup of chia seeds

1/4 cup of flax seeds

1 tsp of fine sea salt

1/2 cup vegetable oil

1/2 cup of brown rice syrup (you can sub honey or real maple syrup)

1 tbsp Vanilla extract

First, preheat your oven to 350 degrees. In a lager bowl place your oats, coconut chips, pistachios, sesame seeds, flax seeds, and chia seeds. ver the top sprinkle it with you sea salt.

Next, in a small bowl mix your vegetable oil, your brown rice syrup, and vanilla extract. Pour the mixture over the oat mix and toss it well.

Meanwhile, have two sheet pans lined with parchment paper. When mixture is all tossed and coated divide the mixture evenly between the two pans.  Place the pans in the center of your oven and let it bake for about 15 minutes before removing to stir the mixtures. Repeat this every 10 – 15 minutes until the mixture is quite dark and evenly roasted. (Takes about 40 minutes to an hour.) Remove the pans from the oven and let cool about 20 minutes before handling.

Finally, once the mixture is cool you can store it in an air tight container for about 2 weeks. Serve it up as you wish – milk, yogurt, nut milks, and any assorted fruit you wish.

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